By RYAN J. FOLEY
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman defended the state’s release of a convict charged with killing his mother and kidnapping a woman 36 hours after leaving prison, saying state officials did everything in their power to protect the public.
The Iowa Department of Corrections properly identified 21-year-old Kirk Levin as “somebody who needed special attention in the community” before releasing him Jan. 1 from the Mount Pleasant prison, Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said. That’s why officials took the extra precaution of notifying Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure and Levin’s past victims before his release, Albrecht said.
Department officials didn’t have any legal basis to put Levin on parole or seek his commitment for mental health treatment once his prison term for burglary ended, despite discovering a notebook in which he wrote about rape fantasies, Albrecht said. Levin was released after serving slightly more than 2 years of a 5-year sentence, which was shortened under a law that gives offenders an extra 1.2 days of credit for every day served.
Levin is charged in the Jan. 3 killing of his mother, Marilyn Schmitt, in her farmhouse in Early, a northwest Iowa town 100 miles from Des Moines.
Police say Levin choked his mother with a belt and stabbed her repeatedly, then went to the home of a 21-year-old acquaintance and convinced her to drive him back to his mother’s house, claiming his car broke down. Once there, police say Levin lured her to a barn, tied her up with rope and drove off but only got about a half-mile before his car skidded into a ditch. When passing motorists offered to help, Levin fled and the woman yelled for help. Investigators found Levin hiding in a barn. McClure later found his mother’s body.
Before Levin left prison, guards discovered a notebook containing “explicit writings and drawings depicting the sexual assault and rape of a female,” records show. Corrections officials mentioned the notebook when notifying McClure that Levin planned to live with his mother after his release. McClure has declined comment on any steps his department may have taken to monitor Levin, who has told authorities he fantasized about rape since being a teenager.
In a 2009 car theft case in Wisconsin, where Levin had escaped from a group home, a prosecutor told the court that Levin was caught hiding in the basement of a girl he’d targeted for rape carrying duct tape. The prosecutor said Levin was getting sex offender counseling and that a doctor worried he would act on his violent fantasies if he went off unspecified medication. Levin also allegedly expressed an interest in drugging women and with making a soundproof room that could be used for rape.
Levin has largely been in prison since age 17, first for the car theft and then for burglarizing a man’s home in 2010. Because he was never convicted of a sex crime, officials couldn’t ask a judge to keep him confined as a sexually violent predator when his term ended. They could have sought his court-ordered commitment if Levin was deemed unable to “make responsible decisions concerning treatment” for mental illness and was a danger to himself or others, but Albrecht said his circumstances didn’t reach that threshold.
“The governor sends his condolences to the family in such a tragic situation. As indicated, there were concerns and the department did everything they could, but did not have the legal basis for confinement,” he said.
Branstad has boasted of reducing Iowa’s prison population by hundreds of inmates since taking office in 2011, but corrections officials say those efforts didn’t factor into Levin’s release since his prison sentence was completed.
Walter Dickey, a former Wisconsin Department of Corrections secretary and expert on sentencing, said Iowa’s system is flawed because inmates like Levin are released without supervision. He said a parole agent would have “a heckuva lot more control over the guy than any sheriff would have” because restrictions could be imposed under the threat of returning to prison.
“There is something very wrong about a sentencing system that releases people straight from prison into the community (without) correctional supervision,” he said.
Dickey said he wanted to know whether the department gave Levin a mental health evaluation before releasing him and whether there were any reasons that could have justified keeping him locked up for longer.
Department of Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta said prison doctors conduct such evaluations of inmates if officials have concerns before their release. The evaluations determine whether they’re potentially dangerous to themselves or others and whether further proceedings, including civil commitment, should be pursued.
Scaletta said he couldn’t disclose whether an evaluation was conducted of Levin, citing medical privacy law. The department issued a blanket denial of a request by The Associated Press for correspondence about Levin before and after his release.
The department said it couldn’t release some records without Levin’s approval while others were withheld because they pertained to a criminal investigation or were “of a personal or confidential nature.” The spokesman for Branstad, who has talked up transparency in his administration, said those were proper reasons for not releasing records.
Rep. Clel Baudler, a Greenfield Republican and former state trooper who chairs the Public Safety committee, said authorities have more explaining to do about their handling of Levin.
“I wouldn’t think they would have to just release him, totally,” he said. “It needs serious looking into, and some people should have to answer questions in regards to why, after finding that journal, he wasn’t watched a lot closer.”